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I am the A/V person for my church, whose main sanctuary is about 3,500 square feet. The sound room where the receiver would be located is about 8 feet above the floor, and approximately 80 feet from where the pastor would be with the mic. We have a condenser microphone at the pulpit that needs to be turned off to avoid interference when he uses his current lavalier mic, and when he walks around front while preaching, he gets a few dead spots.
What would be the qualities to look for in a lavalier mic system? What would give the best quality of sound, best reception, and counter as much interference as possible?
Kelvin, you're not alone in your concerns. As churches have grown in size over the last decade or two (witness the popularity of megachurches), amplification has become a much more important issue facing houses of worship. But don't worry, you've come to the right place!
My first thought to help you avoid both interference and dead spots was an infrared (IR) system. IR systems use radiation to transmit sound and are immune to radio interference, so you wouldn't have to turn off the pulpit mic every time your pastor switches on his lavalier mic. In addition, IR systems work within a line of vision - unlike radio waves, they don't go through walls or other obstructions. Because the IR receiver would be placed in an elevated sound room, above the heads of your parishoners, your pastor would have a clear line of sight between the microphone/transmitter and receiver. And that means fewer dead spots.
However, there are also drawbacks to IR. While it would work very well for your stationary pulpit mic, it can be problematic when the microphone/transmitters are in motion. Dropouts will result if your pastor so much as turns around, or decides to stand at the pulpit, or does anything else that would block the line of sight between transmitter and receiver. IR systems are also, in general, more expensive than radio frequency (RF)-based systems like the one you've got at the pulpit.
For RF microphone systems, there are two essential features to look for. First, you need a frequency agile system, meaning you can switch channels (similar to how you'd switch stations on a radio) and use multiple channels at the same time. A frequency agile system would enable your pastor to use both the pulpit mic and the lavaliere mic with the same receiver, without cross-channel interference.
Second, you need a true diversity receiver. It's actually two independent receivers, each with its own antenna, combined in one unit. A comparison circuit constantly monitors both receivers and selects the one with the strongest signal, which prevents dropouts and static.
Now that you know what to look for, here are a couple of RF mics that fit the bill for your church:
The Nady Encore Duet is a VHF-based system that has an operating range of up to 250 feet, or up to 500 feet in optimal line-of-sight conditions, so your pastor can circumnavigate the whole church and still have every word heard loud and clear. Nady's own DigiTRU Diversity digital processing circuitry helps eliminate dropouts and provides crystal clear reception, even during long-range use.
The Amplivox S1656 broadcasts on the UHF bandwidth and includes a lavaliere mic. It's got ten-channel frequency agility, meaning you can use with multiple microphones at the same time - for special church events with multiple performers, for instance. It also gives you a lot of frequencies to work with, to help ensure you'll always be able to find a clear, interference-free channel.
In an ideal situation, you'd be able to use both these systems together, one for the pulpit microphone and one for your pastor's lavaliere mic. Since one system is on the VHF bandwidth and one employs UHF, the possibility of cross-channel interference is completely eliminated. In fact, an IR mic system for your pulpit, like the like the Nady IRX220, would also be great combined with a radio frequency lavaliere mic.
My favorite frequency agile microphone/transmitter is the Paso MW283, which can broadcast on a mind-blowing 100 channels. Not only can you use 8 of these mics simultaneously, you can use up to 92 more if you need them! (Although, ideally, 25 mics at once is a more ideal limit.) These mics are available separately or with the Paso RDU2100 true diversity receiver.
A true diversity receiver is actually two independent receivers, each with its own antenna, combined in one unit. A comparison circuit constantly monitors both receivers and selects the one with the strongest signal, which prevents dropouts and static.
If you're on a tight budget, another good choice - and a rather creative one, if I say so myself - is the combination of the Nady U41 Quad and VHF 401X Quad systems. Each one can employ up to four mics at the same time; the U41 operates on the UHF bandwidth, while the 401X operates on VHF. That makes the chances of one system interfering with the other exactly zero.
The problem with this solution is that, while you won't have to worry about your actors' mics interfering with each other, there could still be interference from karaoke systems, CD radios, TV stations or countless other sources which broadcast on the UHF or VHF bandwidths. Because these transmitters are not frequency agile, you won't be able to adjust them to find a clear channel, as you would with the Paso MW283.
Just so you know, the mic systems I've mentioned come with lavaliere or lapel microphones; I'm assuming that for a play, you want mics that are as unobtrusive as possible. However, you can also purchase them with headband or handheld microphones depending on your preferences.
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